Cast Aluminium Becomes A Machine Tool

Shaper tools were, at one time, a necessary tool for any machine shop. With a shaper and a lathe, you can rebuild or manufacture almost anything. At the very least, you can make the tool to manufacture anything. For the last few months, [Makercise] has been working on building his own homemade shaper, and now it’s making chips. (YouTube, also embedded below.)

First off, what exactly is a metal shaper? It’s not commonly seen in machine shops these days, but at the turn of the last century, these were popular and practical machines to cut keyways into a piece of stock. Effectively, it’s kind of like a jigsaw, in that it cuts with a reciprocating action and is able to plane the entire surface of a metal plate. Today, if you want to surface a piece of stock, you would just throw it onto the Bridgeport, but there are still some use cases for a metal shaper.

The design of this shaper comes directly from the Gingery series of books, the famous series of books that are step-by-step instructions on how to build a machine shop starting from the technology of rubbing two sticks together. [Makercise] has built one of these machines before, the metal lathe, and the second in the Gingery series of books after a foundry, and the next book is instructions on how to build a mill.

Sure, [Makercise] is using modern tools and modern techniques to build this shaper. There’s a CNC machine involved, and nobody is going to Greenland to make aluminum anymore. Still, this is a flat piece of metal made from scratch, an a great example of how far you can take home machining in a post-apocalyptic scenario.

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The How and Why of Tungsten Carbide Inserts, and a Factory Tour

It seems a touch ironic that one of the main consumables in the machining industry is made out of one of the hardest, toughest substances there is. But such is the case for tungsten carbide inserts, the flecks of material that form the business end of most of the tools used to shape metal. And thanks to one of the biggest suppliers of inserts, Sweden’s Sandvik Coromant, we get this fascinating peek at how they’re manufactured.

For anyone into machining, the video below is a must see. For those not in the know, tungsten carbide inserts are the replaceable bits that form the cutting edges of almost every tool used to shape metal. The video shows how powdered tungsten carbide is mixed with other materials and pressed into complex shapes by a metal injection molding process, similar to the one used to make gears that we described recently. The inserts are then sintered in a furnace to bind the metal particles together into a cohesive, strong part. After exhaustive quality inspections, the inserts are ground to their final shape before being shipped. It’s fascinating stuff.

Coincidentally, [John] at NYC CNC just released his own video from his recent jealousy-inducing tour of the Sandvik factory. That video is also well worth watching, especially if you even have a passing interest in automation. The degree to which the plant is automated is staggering – from autonomous forklifts to massive CNC work cells that require no operators, this looks like the very picture of the factory of the future. It rolls some of the Sandvik video in, but the behind-the-scenes stuff is great.

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Superb Wood Floor Inlay Shows Off Computer-Augmented Tools

It’s been a few years since we first started hearing about “tools of the future changing the way we work” but this astounding whole-room floor inlay might be the best argument for them yet.

The Shaper Origin

A couple of years ago we wrote a hands-on preview of a unique tool called the Shaper Origin. If a milling machine is classically defined as having a stationary tool head with moving stock, the Origin is the reverse. To use an Origin the user adheres specially marked tape to the stock material, then holds the origin down and moves it much like a hand router.

The Origin has a camera which tracks the fiducial patterns on the tape, allowing it to know its precise position, even across an entire room. The operator sees a picture on the screen of the tool that guides them with superimposed lines, while the tool head makes its own precision adjustments to perfectly cut the design in the X, Y, and Z.

Floor in Progress

But what do you use a tool like this for? Cutting boards, small tables, and toy blocks are fine examples but don’t highlight any unique features of the tool. Many could just as easily be made using a ShopBot, X-Carve, Carvey, or any of their ilk. What you can’t do with any of those tools (or really anything besides manual labor, endless patience, and master skill) is inlay an entire floor in situ.

[Mark Scheller] (eight time winner of Wood Floor of the Year awards) used an Origin to cut a curvaceous 22 foot long rendition of the first 9 bars of Handel’s Passacaglia into the floor of a lucky homeowner’s music room. Without decades of practice, it’s difficult to imagine doing this any way besides with a Shaper Origin. You can’t put an entire room into a CNC router. The individual floorboards could be cut, but that would be tedious and increasingly difficult as the room gets larger. With the Origin it seems almost trivial. Do the design, place the marking tape, and cut. The same model is used to cut the inlays for a perfect fit. This is an incredible example of a unique use for this unusual tool!

Turn Your Lathe into a Shaper

Ingenuity is the name of the game with manual machine tools. You often have to get creative to use the tools you have to create the part you want. That’s exactly what happened when [John] needed to cut internal splines and keyways using his lathe.

Lathes are usually used to turn metal, but internal keyways and splines are operations often performed with a broach. An older tool called a shaper would be perfect here, but shapers are relatively rare these days — or are they? There are many examples of shaper attachments for lathes. These are human-powered devices that scrape a bit of metal off each pass. The lathe itself is used to keep the workpiece in place and move the tool in a repeatable way.

Rather than create a shaper jig from scratch, [John] decided to use his compound slide as the shaper slide itself. He removed the compound slide lead screw, which allowed the compound to slide freely. He then fabricated a double hinged bar and bolted this to the compound slide. Moving the bar causes the slide to move. Just add a cutting tool, and you’re ready to cut a keyway. Add an indexing plate, and you’re ready to cut a spline. You can see the tool in action after the break.

If you want to learn more about lathes and what goes into them, you can learn how to build one from scratch.

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Bulking up a Lightweight Lathe with a Concrete Cart

When it comes to machine tools, a good rule of thumb is that heavier is better. A big South Bend lathe or Bridgeport mill might tip the scales at ludicrous weight, but all that mass goes to damping vibration and improving performance. So you’d figure a lathe made of soda cans could use all the help it could get; this cast concrete machine cart ought to fit the bill nicely

Perhaps you’ve caught our recent coverage of [Makercise]’s long and detailed vlog of his Gingery lathe build. If not, you might want to watch the 5-minute condensed video of the build, which shows the entire process from melting down scrap aluminum for castings to first chips. We love the build and the videos, but the lightweight lathe on that wooden bench never really worked for us, or for [Makercise], who notes that he was never able to crank the lathe up to full speed because of the vibrations. The cart attempts to fix that problem the old fashioned way – more mass.

There are a few “measure twice, cut once” moments in the video below, as well as a high pucker-factor slab lift that could have turned into a real disaster. We might have opted for a countertop-grade concrete mix that could be dyed and polished, but that would be just for looks. When all is said and done, the cart does exactly what it was built to do, and there’s even room on it for the shaper that’s next on the build list. We’re looking forward to that.

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Hands-On the Shaper Origin: A Tool That Changes How We Build

I bet the hand saw really changed some things. One day you’re hacking away at a log with an ax. It’s sweaty, awful work, and the results are never what you’d expect. The next day the clever new apprentice down at the blacksmith’s shop is demoing his beta of his new Saw invention and looking for testers, investors, and a girlfriend. From that day onward the work is never the same again. It’s not an incremental change, it’s a change. Pure and simple.

This is one of those moments. The world of tools is seeing a new change, and I think this is the first of many tools that will change the way we build.

Like most things that are a big change, the components to build them have been around for a while. In fact, most of the time, the actual object in question has existed in some form or another for years. Like a crack in a dam, eventually someone comes up with the variation on the idea that is just right. That actually does what everything else has been promising to do. It’s not new, but it’s the difference between crude and gasoline.

My poetic rasping aside, the Shaper Origin is the future of making things. It’s tempting to boil it down and say that it’s a CNC machine, or a router. It’s just, more than that. It makes us more. Suddenly complex cuts on any flat surface are easy. Really easy. There’s no endless hours with the bandsaw and sander. There’s no need for a 25,000 dollar gantry router to take up half a garage. No need for layout tools. No need to stress about alignment. There’s not even a real need to jump between the tool and a computer. It can be both the design tool and the production tool. It’s like a magic pencil that summons whatever it draws. But even I had to see it to believe it.

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Shaper Tools Will Blow Your Mind

Have you ever wanted to own a full-sized ShopBot? What if some geniuses somewhere made a tool the size of a coffee maker that had the same capabilities? Does an augmented reality, real-time feedback, interactive, handheld CNC router that can make objects ranging in size from a pillbox to an entire conference room table sound like a thing that even exists? It didn’t to me at first, but then I visited the Shaper Tools office in San Francisco and they blew my mind with their flagship tool, Shaper Origin.

This table and the spool holder sitting on it was made with a machine the size of a coffee maker.
This table and the spool holder sitting on it was made with a machine the size of a coffee maker.

It’s impossible for me not to sound like a fan boy. Using Shaper Origin was one of those experiences where you just don’t know what to say afterwards. This is what the future looks like.

I’ve used a lot of CNC tools in my life, from my first home-built CNC conversion, to 1980s monstrosities that ran off the floppy kind of floppy disks, and all the way over to brand new state-of-the-art vertical machining centers. I had to shake a lot of that knowledge off when they demoed the device to me.

Origin is a CNC router built into the form factor of a normal wood router. The router knows where it is on the work piece. You tell it where on the piece you would like to cut out a shape, drill a hole, or make a pocket. It tells you where to go, but as you move it keeps the cutting bit precisely on the path with its three axes of control.

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